Someone recently told me I am “the potpourri of baptisms.” I started to be offended, but then realized they had a point. I have sprinkled, dunked, poured and dedicated people from infants to the elderly. I’ve baptized in the neighborhood pool, the portable pool we set up in the high school auditorium, church sanctuaries, the ocean shoreline and a bucket I dug out of my garage. I’ve worn a robe, jeans and a t-shirt, and a swimming suit with gym shorts – none of those combinations at the same time. I’ve baptized people I’ve known for years and I’ve baptized people I met that same day. We could discuss water temperature, but I think you get the point.
Here’s what has been the same at every baptism:
- The belief that we are not saved by our baptism, but by Christ.
- The understanding that baptism is a gift of God’s grace that we don’t earn, understand or choose on our own.
- The presence and power of an awesome God whose grace is at work in the lives of all who share in this sacrament of grace.
For too long, we’ve used our traditions and practices of baptism as a dividing line, when Paul specifically says there is “one Lord, one faith, one baptism.” Baptism is a gift of God given in a variety of ways. It is a means of grace, a covenant made with a promise, a Sacrament that ought to unite us in Christ rather than a mere practice that largely reflects our context and the denominational traditions that have formed us.
To quote the document “By Water and the Spirit”:
There is one baptism as there is one source of salvation – the gracious love of God. The baptizing of a person, whether as an infant or an adult, is a sign of God’s saving grace. That grace – experienced by us as initiating, enabling, and empowering – is the same for all persons. All stand in need of it. The difference between the baptism of adults and that of infants is that the Christian faith is consciously being professed by an adult who is baptized. A baptized infant comes to profess his or her faith later in life, after having been nurtured and taught by parent(s) or other responsible adults and the community of faith. Infant baptism is the prevailing practice in situations where children are born to believing parents and brought up in Christian homes and communities of faith. Adult baptism is the norm when the Church is in a missionary situation, reaching out to persons in a culture which is indifferent or hostile to the faith. While the baptism of infants is appropriate for Christian families, the increasingly minority status of the Church in contemporary society demands more attention to evangelizing, nurturing, and baptizing adult converts.
What was once a theological battle between the practices of infant baptism and believer’s baptism within Christian denominations needs to give way to a culture that demands clarity on the foundation of our faith, which is the declaration of Jesus as Lord. In baptism, we celebrate that in the strangest ways by the most undeserved means possible what God has given us– grace we can’t ever earn and love we can’t fathom. Baptism is the outward and visible sign that we are part of a covenant community formed and enabled by God where we are growing in grace everyday.
My belief in baptizing in a variety of ways is not to make less of God (as if Icould) or suggest that it really doesn’t matter how we baptize or what we believe, but instead to make much of God and the fact that God’s grace is something we can’t box or package in any one way. If we are to be a countercultural people who are raising “weird” families in a strange and spiritually confused yet spiritually hungry culture, if we are to be a passionate people determined to not stand alone but instead do as Jesus asked, to “GO and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” then we need to be ready to seize every opportunity made available to us to baptize young and old, and celebrate wildly the saving grace of an amazing God.